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The Link Between Mood Disorders and Risk from COVID-19

While COVID-19 vaccines are now available for everyone age five or older and booster shots are now available for all adults in the U.S. and Canada, another recent development in the fight to protect the health of the public received less attention. On October 14, the CDC added mood disorders to the list of conditions that put people at high risk for severe cases of COVID-19. 

The addition of mood disorders to the list of high-risk conditions underscores the importance that mental health has on our overall health. Many of the other conditions already on the list are physical, such as being overweight, having a chronic lung or heart condition or having diabetes. Putting mental health conditions on the same footing as these other conditions is an important step to protect a large and vulnerable group of people. Even before the pandemic, it was estimated that about 20 million U.S. adults suffered from a mood disorder like depression or bipolar disorder each year. 

A mood disorder is a class of serious mental illnesses characterized by significant changes in mood that have a negative effect on daily life. The three main states of mood disorders are depressive (depressed mood), manic (elevated mood) and bipolar (a mix of depressed and elevated moods). 

“CDC’s recent inclusion of certain mental health conditions that can contribute to the severity of a COVID-19 infection reinforces the plight faced by Americans with behavioral health issues, including substance use disorders,” said Miriam E. Delphin-Rittmon, the assistant secretary for mental health and substance abuse in the Department of Health and Human Services. Researchers are focused on any disease or condition that worsens the body’s response to the virus, regardless of whether the underlying disease or condition is mental or physical.

Several recent studies have shed some light on why people with mood disorders are at greater risk from COVID-19, although more research is needed. According to researchers, those reasons include impaired immune response, being predisposed to substance abuse and chronic diseases (e.g., obesity, cardiovascular disease), a reduced ability to follow public health measures and other social factors such as poverty, lower health literacy and being more likely to live in congregate care facilities.

Adding mood disorders to the list of conditions that put people at high risk for severe coronavirus cases is yet another reason for this group of people to get vaccinated for COVID-19 and get a booster shot once they need one. For more information on other topics related to COVID-19, check out the LHSFNA’s COVID-19 Resources page. 

[Jamie Becker is the Fund’s Director of Health Promotion.]

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